Is U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns the new Big Pharma watchdog? The chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is already spearheading an investigation into Johnson & Johnson's recent consumer-drug recalls. And now, he's launched a probe into Wyeth's marketing of the transplant drug Rapamune.
Whistleblowers recently sued Wyeth, alleging that the company pushed Rapamune as an organ-rejection preventive for patients with liver, heart, lung, pancreas and other transplants; the drug is only FDA-approved as a remedy for kidney-cancer patients, and last year FDA said Rapamune may increase the risk of death and organ rejection if given during a liver transplant. The suit also claimed that the company specifically targeted black patients for off-label Rapamune use.
Now, Towns says he's doing its own investigation. In a letter to Pfizer CEO Jeffrey Kindler, Towns demanded Rapamune documents, including internal reports on the drug's side effects. (Pfizer bought Wyeth last year.) Towns also laid out the "serious allegations," asking Kindler for information and documents showing whether the company a.) marketed Rapamune off-label; b.) targeted specific medical facilities for increased sales of Rapamune; and c.) tried to convert transplant patients from their current transplant drugs to Rapamune.
For its part, Pfizer says it will "cooperate fully" with the probe. "The company shares Chairman Towns' commitment to protecting patients' health," spokesman Christopher Loder told Bloomberg. "Wyeth is committed to ensuring that information provided to physicians on the uses, benefits and risks for Rapamune is consistent with its FDA-approved label."